Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a collection of stories popular in Scandinavian countries. Elegant prose that flows seamlessly, the book is a ‘must-read’ for those who want to be whisked away into the world of mythology.
Norse mythology comes from Scandinavian countries and the stories are written in Old Norse. Some stories are inscribed on stones and the alphabet is known as runes. We are familiar with one particular rune, which is the Bluetooth symbol. Incidentally, the symbol was made by combining two runes – the initials of a man named Harald Bluetooth.
Even though the book is written in English, names of the Norse Gods, places and objects are written in Old Norse – a Germanic language and pronounced the German way.
A brief summary
Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a collection of different stories that are popular in Scandinavian countries. In his introduction, Gaiman says that it is hard to have a favourite sequence of myths. He compares this sentiment to wanting to eat different cuisines on different days: “Some nights you may want Thai food, some nights sushi and other nights you crave the plain home food you grew up on.”
The stories revolve around Odin the All-Father, who hung himself on the branches of the world tree Yggdrasil for nine nights to obtain the power of the runes. Loki, the trickster god, is very clever and gets the Gods both in and out of trouble. Thor, God of thunder, son of Odin is the strongest of the Gods. His weapon is the mighty Mjollnir; a hammer so powerful, that it will knock your lights out.
Other characters include Freyr, God of harvest with a golden chariot pulled by a golden boar faster than the winds; Heimdallr, a God who can look into the future and possesses a horn, which he will blow to wake the Gods at the time of Ragnarok – the end of all things.
There are nine worlds situated on the branches of the Yggdrasil, some of which are Jotunheim: the land of the giants, Svartalfheim: the land of the dwarves who can make magnificent items, Midgard: the human realm and Asgard: The God realm.
Even though Gaiman said that he doesn’t have a preference for sequencing these myths, he started the collection with the story of how the world was created and finishes it with how the world will end when Ragnarok comes.
In the beginning, Ymir was the first giant to walk the lands. He gave birth to the first humans; Ask and Embla. Odin, the All-Father and the ruler of the universe, is the son of Bor and Bestla (Mother Earth). Then, the nine worlds are described in great detail. After that, follows a series of short stories, some of which are linked.
Gaiman’s writing is neither too fairy-tale-like nor does it follow a rigid pattern. It is elegant prose which flows like a river. Normally, I take one or two weeks to finish a book. However, I devoured this one in three days. Simply unputdownable, this book will whisk you away into another world. The intriguing part is the fact that the Gods behave a bit like humans as they make mistakes, cheat and betray others. You may find some similarity between Norse and Hindu mythology. For example, Idunn the keeper of the golden apples of immortality is similar to Dhanvantri, God of medicine and keeper of the amrit.
In short, this book is a ‘must-read’, and an amazing ride through another world. Definitely recommended to anyone who loves mythology.
About the author
This autumn, Samvidha Srinath will be entering college. She would like to become a language specialist and teacher. She is a polyglot, fluent in 5 languages (English, German, French, Tamil and Hindi). She is learning Korean by herself by watching Korean dramas and plans to soon start learning Japanese as well. Her hobbies include playing the piano, singing Carnatic music, painting and nail art. A passionate reader, she reads two books in a month and intends to read at least 24 this year.
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